“Elusive, haunting.”—New York Times Book Review
A husband’s search for his wife’s lover, lost amid the turbulence of the Yom Kippur War, is the heart of this dreamlike novel. Through five different perspectives, Yehoshua explores the realities and consequences of the affair and the search, laying bare deep-rooted tensions within family, between generations, between Jews and Arabs.
“[A] profound study of personal and political trauma.” —Daily Telegraph
"Has the symmetry of an elegantly cut gem.” —The New Yorker
About the Author
A. B. YEHOSHUA is the author of numerous novels, including Mr. Mani, Five Seasons, The Liberated Bride, and A Woman in Jerusalem. His work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, and he has received many awards worldwide, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Jewish Book Award. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Read an Excerpt
And in the last war we lost a lover. We used to have a lover, and since the war he is gone. Just disappeared. He and his grandmother's old Morris. And more than six months have passed and there has been no sign from him. We are always saying it's a small, intimate country, if you try hard enough you'll discover links between the most distant people — and now it's as if the man has been swallowed up by the earth, disappeared without trace, and all the searches have been fruitless. If I was sure he had been killed, I would give up the search. What right have we to be stubborn about a dead lover, there are some people who have lost all that is dear — sons, fathers and husbands. But, how can I put it, still I'm convinced that he hasn't been killed. Not him. I'm sure that he never even reached the front. And even if he was killed, where is the car, where has that disappeared to? You can't just hide a car in the sand.
There was a war. That's right. It came upon us a complete surprise. Again and again I read the confused accounts of what happened, trying to get to the bottom of the chaos that ruled then. After all, lie wasn't the only one who disappeared. To this day there is before us a list of so many missing, so many mysteries. And next of kin are still gathering last remnants — scraps of clothing, bits of charred documents, twisted pens, bullet-ridden wallets, melted wedding rings. Chasing after elusive eyewitnesses, after the shadow of a man who heard a rumor, trying in the mist to piece together a picture of their loved one. But even they are giving up the search. So what right have we to persist. After all, he's a stranger to us. A doubtful Israeli, a deserter in fact, who returned to the country for a short visit to sort out some inheritance and stayed, perhaps also on our account. I don't know, I can't be sure. But I repeat, he hasn't been killed. Of that I'm convinced. And that is the cause of the unease that has been eating at me these last months, that gives me no rest, that sends me out on the road in search of him. More than that: strange ideas occur to me on his account, that in the thick of the battle, in the confusion and disorder of units disbanding and regrouping, there were some — let's say two or three — who took advantage of this confusion to break off and disappear. I mean, they simply decided not to return home, to abandon their old ties and go elsewhere.
It may seem a crazy idea, but not to me. You could say I've become an expert on this subject of missing persons.
Boaz, for example. Again and again since the cease-fire there has been that announcement in the papers about Boaz, who disappeared. Something like this: Mom and Dad are looking for Boaz. And a picture of a young man, a child almost, with short hair, a young soldier in the Tank Corps, and some astonishing details. At the beginning of the war on such and such a date he was seen in action in his tank in the front line in such and such a place. But ten days later, toward the end of the war, a childhood friend, a trusted friend, met him at a crossroads far from the front. They had a short conversation, and parted. And from that point on, Boaz's traces have vanished.
A real mystery —
But we have hardened, reading announcements such as these in the papers, pausing for a moment and continuing with a weary glance to flick through the pages. This last war has made us numb.
But Boaz's parents persist, and why shouldn't they? For years they brought up a son, walked with him to the nursery, ran with him to the doctor, made sandwiches for him in the morning when he went away to the youth camp, waited for him at the railway station when he returned from a school trip. They washed and ironed and worried the whole time. Suddenly he disappears. And nobody can tell them where he is, what has happened to him. The whole system, nation, society, which absorbed him so voraciously, now begins to falter. And when the parents persist, and why shouldn't they, a young officer is sent to them, well meaning no doubt but lacking experience. He arrives in a jeep and takes them, on a bright winter's day, on a journey to the middle of the desert, driving long hours in silence deep into the wilderness, on roads that are not roads, through the dust and the desolation to a bare unmarked little mound of sand, vast emptiness all around. This officer boy goes red, stammers, here is where he was seen for the last time. See, even the dry rocks are broken in mourning. How is it possible ...
And I say, these parents who do not give up, who are not content with this sandy conclusion beside a lonely hill, who glare with hatred at the young officer, who from sheer anger and disappointment are ready to attack him, these parents demand further explanation, for who can assure them that their Boaz, Boaz their son, is not sitting at this very moment, in summer clothes, with long hair, on a distant beach, in the port of a far-off country, watching the landscape that lies open before him and sipping a soft drink. Perhaps he had reasons for not returning home, even at the price of his parents' misery. He grew suddenly disgusted by something, or something scared him. And if his parents would only study the problem from such an angle, instead of scurrying from one army office to another, there might be a chance of picking up his trail.
But how could they —
I too once visited such an army office, searching for him, and I saw how hopeless it was, in spite of the smiles and the willingness and the sympathy. But that was only after two months or more, when we realized that the lover had really disappeared, that he wasn't going to return. Until then we had said, he must still be on the move, caught up in new experiences, confused by encounters with unfamiliar things. What does he know about the real Israel. Besides, We were so busy that we hardly had the leisure to think about him. Asya was at the school all the time, filling in for teachers who had been called up, running around in the evenings between meetings of the emergency committees, visiting the parents of pupils from the senior grades who had been killed or wounded. At night she used to come home exhausted, collapse on the bed and fall asleep right away. And I had a heavy load of work also, the garage was full of cars already in the first days of the war. Some of my customers were on their way to the front, already in uniform, and they brought their cars in for major repairs, thinking that the war would be a short one, a quick journey of adventure, a good opportunity to have the engine overhauled or the bearings changed, or get a new coat of paint, and in a few days they would be returning home, picking up their cars and going back to their business.
But they didn't return so quickly. My parking lot filled up. One of my customers didn't return at all. I had to return the car personally to his parents' house, to shake hands with the mourners, to mumble some words of condolence and, of course, to cancel the fee, which amounted to several hundred pounds. The other cars were taken away by the wives, those of them who knew how to drive. I never had so much to do with women as in those weeks immediately after the war. They took the cars over, and slowly but surely they ruined them. Driving without water, without oil, even forgetting to look at the fuel gauge. In the middle of the night the phone would ring, and a woman's voice appeal for my help. And I would drag myself out in the middle of the night, roaming the darkened city to find in a narrow side street a young woman, a child really, standing panic-stricken beside a huge luxury car with an empty fuel tank.
But that disruption also came to an end, and life began to return to normal. The men came back from the army, wandering about in the mornings in their khaki clothes and heavy boots, buying supplies in the grocers' shops, dust in their eyes, looking dazed, stammering a little. They came and collected their cars and postponed payment. A hard winter was setting in. Dull days, sodden with rain. It became harder and harder for us to sleep at night. Waking in the middle of the night to the sound of thunder, going to the bathroom, switching on the radio for a moment. So it was that I discovered the extent of Dafi's insomnia. The lover's disappearance began to penetrate. Yearning for him, wondering where he is. Asya knows no peace, running to the phone every time it rings. She says nothing, but I catch her look —
In the mornings I have taken to driving to the garage by a roundabout route, by way of the lower city, passing his grandmother's house, looking for a sign of life behind the sealed shutters with their peeling paint. Sometimes even parking the car for a moment and running up the deserted staircase to examine the broken letter box that hangs there precariously, to see if there's a letter or a message for him, or from him. Can we abandon him, forget him? After all, who but us could know he is gone?
Dafi, my dear, it's a white night, there's no point in trying. You'll only end up crying again, kid. I know you, I heard you whimpering under the blanket. It's only when you try too hard to sleep that all these things get on your nerves — the faint snoring of Daddy or Mommy, the noise of a car in the street, the wind rattling the shutter in the bathroom. It's already past midnight. You thought you'd get away with it, pudgy, but tonight is a night without sleep. There's no choice. Stop, enough turning the pillow and tossing from side to side, playing dead. No more fooling. Who are you trying to kid? Open your eyes, please, pull yourself together, sit up and put on the light and make a plan for killing the time that's left between now and morning.
I knew this afternoon that tonight there'd be problems, that I wouldn't be able to sleep. It's a strange thing, this premonition. Tali and Osnat came around this afternoon and stayed until the evening. We had a good time, chatting and laughing and gossiping, about the teachers to begin with, but about the boys most of all. Osnat's completely crazy, she's been like this since the beginning of the year, she's got nothing else to talk about, just boys. Every few weeks she falls in love with someone new, goes right off her head. Usually boys from the seventh and eighth grades who don't even know they've been fallen in love with. But that doesn't stop her from making a fantastic story out of it, every time it happens. I really love her. She's ugly and thin, wears glasses, and she's got a tongue like a sharp knife. Tali and I roared with laughter at her descriptions, we made such a row that Daddy opened the door to see what was going on, but he closed it again in a hurry because Tali had taken off her shoes and her sweater, opened her blouse, let her hair down and lay down on my bed. Wherever she goes she's always taking something off and getting into other people's beds. Completely unbalanced. A real looker and a good friend.
We had fun. Osnat was standing in the middle of the room with her glasses pushed down on her nose, imitating Shwartzy, and suddenly in the middle of all the fun and excitement, beyond Osnat's head, outside the big window, there's a little purple cloud, a night cloud, floating very low, actually touching the rooftops. And a little lightning flash ignites inside me, deep inside my head, a physical sensation. Tonight I won't be able to sleep, a prophetic warning. When Tali and Osnat are fast asleep, I shall be tossing about here on my bed. But I said nothing, I went on chatting and laughing, and there was just that obstinate little flame burning away inside me, like the little pilot flame that's always alight in our oven. No sleep for you, Dafi. Afterward I forget about all this, or I pretend to forget. In the evening they went away and I sat down to do my homework, still expecting a normal night. I did a quick analysis of the two prophecies of wrath in Jeremiah and compared them. I soon polished off the images of death and destruction in The City of Slaughter. Stupid questions. But as soon as I opened the math book, I started yawning. I suddenly felt terribly tired. Maybe I should've laid down on the bed and slept, made the most of it.
But I was silly and went on trying to understand the questions, and then Daddy called me to come and eat supper. When he gets the meal ready and I don't come straightaway it always puts him in a foul mood. He's in such a hurry to eat that he finishes off the meal before he's finished preparing it.
Mommy hasn't come in yet —
I sat beside him even though I wasn't hungry, just to make him feel that he wasn't alone. We hardly talked because it was the evening news on the radio and he was glued to it. He cooked me some scrambled eggs that I didn't want. The food that he cooks never has any taste to it, although he's sure he knows how to cook. When he saw I wasn't eating the eggs, he ate them himself and left the kitchen. I threw some of the food in the garbage, put the rest back in the fridge, promised to wash the dishes and went to watch TV. It was a program in Arabic, but I sat and watched it, rather than go back to my room and find the math book waiting for me there. Daddy tried at first to read the paper and watch TV at the same time. In the end he got up and went off to bed. A strange man. Deserves a close look, sometime. Who is he really? Is he just a garage boss who doesn't talk and goes to bed at 9:30 in the evening?
Mommy still hasn't come in —
I switched off the TV and went to have a shower. When I'm naked under the running water I really feel as if I'm drugged, time becomes sweet and shapeless, I could stand like this for hours. Once Daddy broke down the door because Mommy thought I'd fainted or something. I'd been standing there maybe an hour and I hadn't heard them calling me. Now the water slowly goes cold. I've emptied the tank. Mommy will be mad at me. I dry myself, put on my pajamas and switch off the lights in the house. I go into their bedroom, put out Daddy's bedside lamp and pull the newspaper from underneath him. His beard is big and bushy, there are white hairs in it, glinting in the light from the passage. I feel sorry for him as I watch him sleeping, and it isn't natural for children to pity their parents. I go into my room, take another look at the math homework, perhaps inspiration will come from heaven, but the sky is dark, without a single star, and there's a light rain falling. Since our math teacher was killed in the war and they brought in that kid from the Technion I've lost all interest in the subject. It isn't for me. I can't even begin to understand the questions, never mind the answers.
I pull down the blinds and switch on the transistor, it's that crooner Sarussi. Slowly I pack my school bag, leaving out the math book on purpose. I'll say I forgot it, that'll be the fourth time this month. Next time I'll have to think up a new excuse. At the moment Baby Face doesn't say anything, he blushes as if he's the one who's lying, not me. He's still a bit nervous, scared of getting involved, but he's beginning to gain some confidence — there are disturbing signs. Mommy still hasn't come home. Such a long teachers' meeting. They must be hatching great plots against us.
It's quiet in the house. Deep silence. And then the phone rings. I run to it but Daddy answers before I get to it. Since that man disappeared I've never been able to get to the phone first, Mommy or Daddy always pounce on it, they've even got an extension beside their bed.
I pick up the receiver in the study, and I hear Daddy talking to Tali. She's startled to hear his sleepy voice. I join in the conversation at once. "What happened?" She's forgotten what the history test tomorrow is about. That's what she and Osnat came around for this afternoon, to learn some history, and somehow they forgot all about it. Me too. But I'm not worried about history, maybe it's the only subject that I'm pretty sure about, a talent I got from Mommy; all sorts of pointless and trivial facts stick to me. I tell her the page numbers and she starts to protest, as if I'm the history teacher. "That's far too much, what's the big idea? Can't do all that."
Then she calms down, starts whispering something about Osnat, but a strange whisper rises from the phone, like heavy breathing. Daddy's fallen asleep with the receiver. Tali shrieks. The girl's a total hysteric. I put the phone down, hurry to Daddy, take the receiver from the pillow and put it back in its place. If only I had a fraction of his ability to sleep.
"Go to sleep..." he says suddenly.
"Yes, right away ... Mommy hasn't come in yet."
"She'll be home soon. Don't wait up for her. You'll be worn out in the morning."
Excerpted from "The Lover"
Copyright © 1977 A. B. Yehoshua.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is heavily laden with political inuendo. The author is using every opportunity to voice his opinion on the state of Israeli affairs and how he thinks it should be handled IF you know how to read between the lines and recognize how each carachter represents another political stand point.
I have not read a book quite like this one, but this is a good thing. It is a book about a man trying to help his wife's lover. Not a commonplace occurance. The author uses the point of view of each character to tell the story. The characters in this book are well-crafted and unique. The relationships between the characters keep you reading. It is a good story with an original plot. For a new type of story and a good read, I recommend.